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RUSSIA and the Muslims



The article on Russia Jews and Muslims in The Economist (the subject of a previous posting) dealt mostly with the contemporary scene, making only a passing reference to history. From Moscow, Cameron Sawyer says: "Prior to Vladimir's bringing of Christianity to Russia from Byzantium, Russians were pagans, the old faith , which still exists in some pockets. At the time of the conversion of the Russians to Christianity, the only Muslims on the territory of present-day Russia were the Dagestanis, not part of Russia until centuries later, and some Tatars and Bashkirs. The Chechens and Ingush only even started to be converted to Islam in the 17th century, and they were still mostly pagans until the 19th century. It is also important to note that the kind of Islam practiced in Russia is quite different from that practiced in the Middle East. Russian Islam is traditionally mixed with strong pagan elements (read the very interesting article Islam in Bashkortostan at
http://www.chasing.8m.com/bashkortostan.html), unorthodox, and tolerant of other religions. Russian Muslims consume alcohol ( the two basic rights of the Tatar are meat and rakia)". RH: What caught my attention in the article was the reference to the strong sufi tradition in Chechnya. Are there many sufis in Russia?

Russia is both a Christian nation and a deeply multiethnic one. Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam are protected as official religions alongside Orthodox Christianity. Islam, at least the kind of Islam traditionally practiced in Russia, is not the alien, carcinogenic force which it is in, say, France. The war in Chechnya has no inherent religious dimension at all. So parallels between Western and Eastern Europe, where religion is concerned, are very dangerous.

Ronald Hilton - 5/17/03


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